Archive | December, 2017

The Purloined Blankets: A Winter’s Tale

30 Dec
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Blue purloined blanket and plaid purchased blanket.

With the bitter cold weather, I am thinking about my Dad and one of his lessons to me.

Always keep a blanket in the car during the winter months, especially when driving long distances.  His insistence about blankets used to drive me crazy.

My parents would come to Kansas to visit and not understand the Kansas winter mentality. Many people here do not wear winter coats most of the time.  Since we have a ‘drive up to where you are going attitude’ in the suburbs.  We really do not walk around that much.  We get into our cars and drive to where we are going, then run in.  So why wear a winter coat? A sweater is more than enough. I admit when I was younger, I would do the same thing.  But I always kept my children bundled up.

This attitude sometimes backfires on our children.  My god son went from the Kansas City area to Madison, Wisconsin, for college.  His mom suggested that he take long sleeve shirts and a winter coat up to college with him, his freshman year.  No, he did not want any of that.  Then came Thanksgiving break.  His main request was a hat with ear flaps.  He was so cold walking across campus.  Winter coat, gloves, scarf and long sleeve shirts returned with him to Madison.

My daughter went to college in New Jersey.  She also was impacted by winter in this unexpected manner. Walking across campuses really is different than Kansas ‘run in and run out.’  Her request that first winter was a coat that covered her tush. I quickly agreed to that request.

But back to my Dad.  When my family was young, we often drove to and from St. Louis in the winter months.  My husband’s family lived there. It made my parents nervous.  So they purchased a plaid blanket for my car in case the car broke down.  Having a blanket in the car was their idea of safety against the cold of winter.

He also purchased a car emergency kit for me that had a first kit, jumper cables and a flash light. Even though that kit is long gone, I have made sure we always had one in every car. That makes sense to me. So I never argued about that.

It was the blankets in the car that really drove him crazy. He wanted me to have a blanket for each person in the car. What would happen if we were stuck? We needed a way to keep warm. His passion became stronger after the time my husband, children and I got stuck in a snow storm on the way back from St. Louis.  But we spent the night in Columbia…at a hotel… I told him.   It did not matter.  He was now truly concerned. I  needed blankets,  now!

Dad did buy me another blanket.  But I have to admit, even though he was an honorable, kind and gentle man, my Dad had one flaw that I hesitate to tell you about. But I will.  He was a bit of a goniff, a thief!  He stole the blue blankets from airlines. Do you remember them?  We used to get one each time we flew…not any more.  But years ago, they always had a blanket and pillow on every seat. (His favorite airline blanket….Continental.  The airline no longer exists, except for the many blue blankets in my life.)

Dad would not use his.  He would bring in to my house still wrapped in its plastic bag. It made me crazy. When he flew to visit in the winter time, he often would come off the plane with a blanket. When he got to my house, he would pull it out of his carryon bag and quietly place it in my car.  I soon had a collection of blue blankets. During the winter, I kept a canvas bag filled with blankets in my car in case of emergency. Some purchased, some purloined.

We had disagreement after disagreement as the blue blankets continued to enter my home.  Finally my Mom had enough.  “Don’t tell him not to bring you the blankets.  The more you complain, the more he does it,” Mom demanded.  She was right, once I stopped yelling at him and arguing, he stopped taking the blankets off the planes.

Dad passed away in 2011.  I no longer worry about the blankets in the car.  Or so I thought.

My son’s girlfriend lives over an hour away. They drive back and forth every weekend. One coming here, or one going there.  It is so cold today and she has to drive home, so I asked, “Do you have a blanket in your car?” The answer, “NO.”

Oy,  I feel my Dad’s spirit rising up in me!

The plaid blanket my Dad purchased for me over 30 years ago is going into my son’s girlfriend’s car. My son will get the canvas bag filled with purloined blankets.  When it is this cold, you do need a blanket in your car for long distance travel!

As we enter the new year, I realized more and more that we do become our parents. My sister also has our Dad’s safety gene. She gave me a Vera Bradley blanket that folds into a pillow for Hanukkah. It is my new car blanket.

Wishing everyone a safe, warm, and happy memory filled year!

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My Familiar Ancestor, Who We Cannot Identify

19 Dec

My cousin posted photos yesterday in the hope I could help identify them. None of them had any identifying information.  Several we could figure out, they were mainly our great grandparents and one great uncle. Several are children I has never seen before, perhaps they were from her Mother’s side.  And then there was this photo. A young women who looks much as I did as a young woman. She could be me.

Mystery woman, a relative?

Joan Steiner and me graduation

My college graduation.

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A mystery couple; is it the same woman?

I see so many similarities: our hair, our eyebrows, our noses, our resting face, our lips.  My glasses hide my eyes, but believe me they are similar. When I first saw the photo, I was startled.  Under it my cousin had written: You resemble this woman.  And I do.

I am now haunted by her. Who is she? Is she a great aunt? A cousin?  I am relatively sure she is NOT a grandmother of some generation.  But if I was a time traveler, I think I would be her.

I also love her dress.  There is a bit of sparkle on the collar.  All who know me, know that I love sparkle. I could wear a dress like that.  Perhaps not the high collar.  I do not like turtle neck shirts or high collars of any sort.  The dress itself, is something I would wear.  I imagine that it is blue, my favorite color.

I think she is my doppelganger.  I cannot quite get her out of my mind now.  She also looks a bit like some of my cousin’s daughters.  The family genes are strong. I really want to know who she is? Where she ended up?

This photo was taken in the USA at a photo studio on Grand Street, NYC.  So I at least do not have to worry about her dying in the Shoah.  I think she might be one of my grandfather’s five or six sisters.  I only ever met one as a child.  There were four or five we never knew.

We have another photo taken at the same studio.  Is this her as well?  Or a sister?  I am similar to her as well.  I think it might be her a few years older, with her husband.  She has rings on her fingers now.  But she is still wearing a top with a little drama to it, with all that lace!

Then there is the location of Grand Street, in lower Manhattan.  It runs parallel and a bit to the south of Delancey Street.  My grandfather and great grandfather had a tailor shop on Delancey Street. Also the Bialystoker Synagogue is on Grand Street!  Well we are all Bialystokers!  The synagogue started life as a Methodist Episcopal Church, built in 1826.  In 1905 it was purchased to be a synagogue.  But more important it was started by the Chevra Anshei Chessed of Bialystok, and our great grandfather was extremely active in all Bialystoke communal organizations. The synagogue is an historic landmark. I think I need to go and see this synagogue!!!

I am sure she is related somehow.  There are so many connections. I just wish I knew how! I do not think I ever will unless another photo turns up with a name!

In my heart, I wish that my ancestors had put names on the back of all the photos.  The ones with names in Yiddish, or Hebrew, or Polish or German are so wonderful because we actually have a name.  But the many photos that remain forever nameless sit in albums and wait for a name that will probably never come. This lack of identification concerns me as we go on to web-based photo collections.  We need to keep some sort of identification for generations to come.

But for now, I will look at this photo of my familiar but unknown relative and truly wish I knew who this woman is, and how she might be related to me.

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/louis-of-the-blessed-heart/

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2015/10/10/12-delancey-street-and-my-family/

https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?p=Bialystoker+Synagogue+on+Grand+Street+image

I Just Love Bakery Cookies

16 Dec

Recently a friend of mine asked me to come to speak to a group of 4-6th grade children and their parents/grandparents who were taking a baking class. The children learn a new recipe and also listened to a short talk about the recipe’s place of origin.

I was asked to speak about living in New York City and, black and white cookies.  This was an easy task for me. I have a thing for black and white cookies.  Also, I grew up basically in a bakery.  My grandparents owned a kosher bakery in New Jersey until I was 14.  Meaning I spent many hours helping and visiting and eating in the bakery.

I easily spent 15 minutes talking about living above a bakery; apartment houses; fire escapes; and other New York differences for these children who live in the suburbs of Kansas. Apartment dwelling in tall buildings is not a common occurrence in Kansas!

The talk was over quickly, but it started me thinking about the cookies.  Perhaps the holiday season helped to think of cookies —  not that this is a difficult topic to think about.  But I did start thinking about my favorite bakery cookies!

I love black and white cookies. These large round cookies are covered by both chocolate and vanilla icing divided down the middle of the cookie.

And I am telling you now, when you cut a black and white cookie in half, you must always give each person half the white and half the black.  The only time I made an exception to this rule was for my son….he never ate the chocolate side.  But for everyone else, the rule remains!

There is only one place in Kansas City that I have found black and white cookies that are decent.  The D’Bronx Deli near my house is where I go for this comfort food.  A typical lunch for me is a bowl of chicken noodle soup with a Matzah ball, iced tea and a black and white cookie. I do share it, as described above.  But if my companion does not want to share, I am always content to take it home to devour later.

I have tried other black and white cookies available in Kansas, but none have matched the cookies at D’Bronx.

My cookie desires follow me.  Whenever I go to New Jersey, my sister knows that a visit to Miller’s Bakery in Tenafly is a must stop for some black and white cookies.  Last time I was home, the bakery was OUT of my favorites.  We had to order some for the next day.  But the day was not a wasted, the bakery did have New York Chinese chocolate chip cookies.  These are also quite excellent.  A large chocolate chip cookie with a giant dab of melted chocolate on the top marks a Chinese Cookie in an East Coast Deli.

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There does not seem to be any real information on where these cookies originated, except they might come from Chinese almond cookies, as they do have an almond taste.  I haven’t seen them anywhere but in New York and New Jersey, but I assume wherever there is a Jewish bakery or deli, there might be these delicious cookies.

In any case, when I could not get my black and white cookies, I went to second choice…Chinese Chocolate Chip Cookies.  It was equally yummy, in a slightly different way!

Honestly, my sister and I find it good exercise to walk the mile to Millers for a cookie and coffee. Sometimes one of our friends meets us there. Then we walk back. No guilt cookie eating!

In an effort to be fair to all bakery cookies, I will admit that there is one more that touches my taste memory as well.  The raspberry linden cookie, also known as a Linzer Torte.  My grandfather always called them linden cookies.  These are two-layer cookies.  The bottom is round with scalloped edges. The top matches the size of the bottom and the scallops, but the center has a hole where the raspberry jelly can ooze through.  These are quite excellent if you are in a gooey, sugary mood.

Actually I have no problem eating any of these three cookies.  Growing up in a bakery, however, impacted my taste buds.  Whatever cookie I eat always is in competition by the taste memories I have from my grandfather’s bakery.  To be honest no cookie ever meets the challenge. But I have fun searching, because I just love bakery cookies.

Jerusalem In My Heart

7 Dec

Yesterday I told my daughter not to go to Jerusalem. She and her husband live in Holon, about an hour from Jerusalem. I know that violence will explode as Hamas lashes out over the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It makes me ill.

Nothing has really changed.  But those who work toward hatred use it as a cry to kill and destroy.  And the way the media and the politicians across the world reacts adds to the mob mentality of hatred.  If you show people rabble rousing then they will turn into hate filled mobs.  Why not use some common sense.  And just relax.  The US Congress recognized Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel decades ago. This is not news.

I love Jerusalem. It is in my heart. I spent my sophomore year of college in a Jerusalem attending Hebrew University, living in both Givat Ram and then Har Hasofim campuses. I traveled the roads and went throughout the area surrounding Jerusalem with ease. In 1974 and 1975 we could easily go anywhere in and about Jerusalem. There was no intifada. There were no walls and barricades. We all went where we wanted.

But still my family worried.  It was less than a year after the Yom Kippur War.  My Grandma Esther, who was born in the USA, would send me letters with newspaper clippings and write, “You could kill me in easier ways.”  My Grandma Thelma, who was born in Poland, would send me letters telling me to meet up with her family who had come to Israel after the Shoah.

My love of Jerusalem started before I even saw it,  when I was 11 years old.  The movie, “To Cast A Giant Shadow,” came out. I went to see it with my cousins and grandmas during the summer. I sat next to Grandma Rose, my cousins’ grandma. But we shared her. She had been a citizen of Jerusalem during the siege in 1948 when the Arab nations declared war on Israel after the UN declared the new country of Israel.  Jews in the Jewish Quarter of the old city were cut off without food or water as the siege started. They survived due to old hidden waters in the City.

Grandma Rose, Grandpa Asher and Uncle  Jack survived. But Grandma Rose told me she never forgot looking back to her city, to Jerusalem and wondering if she would ever see it again, when she was forced to leave. When all the Jews, families who had lived there for centuries, were taken out of the city by the Jordanian soldiers. She did not go back, but she never forgot. She died in the USA.

When I lived in Jerusalem, I was there when Uncle Jack returned for the first time, 26 years after he had been forced out as young man. My uncle and aunt came to Israel for their 25 wedding anniversary. And I got the benefit of being with them as my Uncle relived his childhood and told me about the siege and how they survived. He also never forget the last look back as he left his home.

I have been to Jerusalem many times. The heart of Israel. Where the Israeli government has its parliament, the Knesset; where the Israeli Supreme Court makes decisions that benefit those of all religions; where the holy sites of Jews, Christians and Moslems exist in close proximity.

It was in Jerusalem,  the city of peace, that I was taught to use an Uzi and an M-16 automatic rifle to survive.  It was soon after the Yom Kippur War and it was not always safe.  It was in Jerusalem that I became used to the bus drivers who would walk through the bus and ask about every package to find out who it belonged to , to make sure there were no bombs.  It was in Jerusalem that I felt the ground shake as the military detonated bombs it had found nearby in an empty field.  The terrorist groups have been attacking Jerusalem and Israel for decades.  Nothing seems to stop it.  There is always another reason they claim to try to kill or cause chaos. So this decision really changes nothing. The violence ebbs and flows like a tide.

I have been to the Temple Mount and visited the mosques; I have seen the tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem; The tomb of Rachel on the road to Bethlehem; the tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Some of these places are difficult for Jews to access now.

Every time I go to Jerusalem now, I see signs of hatred rising. I love Jerusalem, like many others say they love it as well. But some times I wonder about their signs of love; they are are hard to decipher, to understand. Throwing stones, setting fires, stabbing, terrorists attacks. These are not signs of a people loving a city.  These are signs of destruction.

Recently I was at the Harry Truman Presidential Library.  I read about his recognizing the State of Israel and how so many American and international politicians were against this decision. But he did what he thought was right.  The world survived.

Instead of focusing on the one issue of Jerusalem, why is the world not focusing on the proxy war between the Shia and Sunni that is taking place in Syria?  Why not focus on the war occurring in Yemen?  Why not see the horrors that are happening in Turkey?  Why not Iran and Saudi Arabia?  Hundreds of thousands people have been killed.  Millions have been displaced.  Israel has nothing to do with any of it… so the Arab world stays silent.

Jerusalem is not the reason for all these conflicts.  There are much bigger conflicts within the Moslem Arab nations that is causing unrest in the Middle East.  I hope one day there will be a end of hostilities.  That both sides will decide to just live in peace.  That they will move forward and not ruminate on the past.  To be honest neither side can win, unless they let the past go free.

The US Passport: A Matter of Life

4 Dec

I recently saw the documentary, “Big Sonia,” about a local Kansas City area woman who survived the Holocaust and three concentration camps from ages 13 to 19; how she and her husband started their own tailor shop; how the tailor shop became an important part of her life; and how the Holocaust impacted her life, her family and those around her.  Although I do not know Sonia, I do know her sister-in-law, who belongs to my congregation.

Both Sonia and Ann are contemporaries of my Mom.  And when I hear of their Holocaust survival story, I cannot help but think, “there for the grace of G-d, could have been my Mom.” But she would have just been 10 when the horrors really began, and she might not have survived.  It stabs at my heart.  Here is why:

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When I look at the smiling children in the 1931 passport, I feel fear in my heart.  They are my Mom and my Uncle.  My grandmother is getting ready to take them to Poland.

In 1931, most Jews in Poland and Europe were not yet concerned about escaping. Although Hitler’s rise to power was advancing, he did not become chancellor of Germany until January 1933.  Thus, I guess in some ways, my Grandmother was not afraid to take her two small children, my Uncle, who was 4 ½, and my Mom, who was 2 1/2, to Europe to stay with family while she tried to regain her health.

Boat to Europe 1931

The kneeling sailor is speaking to my Mom;  behind her my Uncle; behind him my Grandma.

I always knew this had occurred. I have seen the photo taken of my Mom and Uncle on the ship to Europe. I knew that my grandmother almost died aboard the ship on the way to Europe. I have seen several photos of my grandmother in Kalsbadt and with family members during that trip.

Both their visa and Passport were issued on May 18, 1931.  I think their visa was good until May 18, 1932.  This part of the Visa is in German. Since my Grandfather’s family lived in the area of Galicia which was then Austria, it makes sense. They arrived in Europe on May 26, 1931.

I heard the stories of my Mom and Uncle coming back from Europe only speaking Yiddish. Their English left them while they spent six months with their paternal grandparents.  This would not happen again, as these grandparents perished in the Shoah.

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This registers my uncle and mom as living in Boleslawiec.

But now that I have the Passport, and have had part of it translated,  I know that this story is not totally true.  They spent at least two and half months in Boleslawiec, Poland,  from August 14 to October 3, 1931.  This is where my Grandmother was born.  They spent at least that time staying with their maternal grandfather and his children. That was a surprise.

So at some point, my Grandmother traveled across Europe with two small children, going from Mielic, Galicia, Austria, to Boleslawiec, Poland.  WOW.  I wonder how the trains were then.  I am sure she went with her American dollars and was able to travel easily.  But the idea of them on a train in Austria and Poland sends shivers through my body.  I can so easily image the other members of my family who traveled on much less kind trains a number of years later to their deaths in the concentration camps.

I also knew it was this trip and her visits to the mineral waters of Kalsbadt that saved and cured my grandmother.  Her experiences in Europe over these months also made her resolute to get as many family members out of Europe that she could.  Unfortunately, she was only successful in rescuing her father and sister.  Her in laws refused to leave, and they perished.

However, until I held the Passport that jointly named my Uncle and Mom as USA citizens and saw the visas, I somehow did not quite fathom the enormous consequences.   This passport was only valid for two years. What if they had been stuck in Europe? I had asked my grandfather when I was younger what he would have done if Grandma died in Europe.  He assured me that he was not going to leave his children in Europe.  He let her go because she was ill, but his children would return to the USA.

That always made me feel better, as the family they stayed with, my grandfather’s family, all perished.  I always believed that Grandma took the children to her in-laws and traveled by herself.  But that is not true.  She also took them to see her father and siblings as well. And miraculously my Grandmother’s two brothers and their wives survived even though Grandma could not get them out of Poland.

The Passport was originally made out only for my Uncle in May 1931.   I found that strange.  Was my Grandmother going to leave my 2-year-old mother with my grandfather in the States, while she traveled with my Uncle?  What changed her mind? I will never know that story. I found the Passport long after my grandmother had passed away.

I do know that they came home.  They arrived back in the USA on October 13, 1931. I can see the US Immigration stamp. The trip itself took a week or so crossing the Atlantic.  They grew up in New Jersey.  They married. They had children and grandchildren. Their memories of Europe faded quickly.  Perhaps my Uncle remembered more, but for my Mom it was just stories she heard.

My Mom did not go through the horrors and Hell that Big Sonia experienced.   Her American Passport and visa and ticket to return saved her and my uncle.  In 1936 Mom went with my Grandmother to Ellis Island to gather my great grandfather and Tante (great aunt).  My Grandmother was successful in saving them.

Not everyone had a life saving Passport. I often think of those who perished.   I still remember the day I found out about the Holocaust.  I cannot forget.

With the vitriol and anti-Semitic language and acts of bullying throughout the country, I think it is important that no one forgets.  Everyone should go and see “Big Sonia” and learn about real courage, and the horrible consequences of baseless hatred and bigotry.

Thank you to members of the Facebook Groups: Tracing the Tribe and Jewish Ancestry in Poland for the translations.

http://www.bigsonia.com

https://www.facebook.com/bigsoniamovie/?fref=mentions

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/the-mysterious-kalsbad-photos-who-are-they/

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/